Namaste mere dost! [Hello friends!]
My trip to Delhi this past weekend was a blast, but I am glad to be back in Hyderabad. In Delhi, the weather was a sticky mixture of monsoon rains followed by hot, sunny afternoons. But back in Hyderabad, the weather is generally cool and only gets up to the mid-80s. It’s nice to be back in a smaller city, too, where we aren’t treated as much like tourists, and people just seem nicer in general. Delhi was a wonderful place to visit, but being in one of the largest cities in the world made me really appreciate the great things about Hyderabad! This week, I have learned a lot about culture, not necessarily through visiting more places, but through engaging with more people in Hyderabad – my host family, my classmates and professors, and my community. Connecting with people here has proved to be a rewarding way to experience India that goes far beyond shopping at markets and seeing historical sites.
This weekend, Nivedita and Prerna (my host mom and sister) invited us to an event at Oakridge International School, where Prerna goes to school and Nivedita teaches art. The event was called Treasure Fest, which is a vibrant two-day arts competition for many of the schools in Hyderabad. Check out the video for some of the performances!
I also went with four friends this weekend to meet with the founders of Sankalp, the NGO that I talked about in an earlier post. Founders Anita and Sara never fail to inspire me with their dedication to helping Indian women and preventing sexual violence. They explained to us that, because they just started the organization, they are still in a research and development stage. Making connections with other NGOs, the police department, and law firms in the Hyderabad area is the most important task right now because these other organizations will help advertise Sankalp as a contact for victims of sexual violence. As volunteers, we will be researching different areas of this issue in India so that they can use the information for presentations, grants, and education. They gave us research topics on human trafficking, the effect of caste and religion on sexual violence issues, the psychology of a sexual offender, and many more. Because I am interested in law, my assignment is to research and compile the recent movements in the Indian legal system pertaining to crimes against women. Anita and Sara also mentioned that they will be doing advocacy and prevention programs in local slums and encouraged us to tag along when we can! This may not be your stereotypical semester abroad, but I am so excited that I will have the chance to meet tons of people from a variety of backgrounds and, if I’m lucky, do something to give back while I’m here.
It is also nice to be back home because the “study” in study abroad has started to kick in. Classes at the University of Hyderabad have been one of the most interesting cultural experiences yet on my trip. I am taking four classes for credit — Indian Philosophy, Technology and Politics, Indo-US Policies, and Basic Hindi — two that are direct-enrollment into the university and two that are classes for international students. I have noticed that Indian students are much more engaged in classroom debate than I am used to at home. Issues of caste, politics, education, Marxism, Indian philosophy, and Western lifestyle are topics that seem to come up in every class discussion, like the students really are thinking about these things all the time. One of my CIEE advisors mentioned at the beginning of the semester that some aspects of India remind her of what the 1960s must have been like in the US. It seems like there is a lot of passion among Indians, especially younger generations like the students at University of Hyderabad, to impact social norms and traditions, whether it be in a positive or negative way. Every week, it seems like there is another forum, rally, or protest on campus that gets students talking about their freedoms. By talking to students in my class, I have heard many different opinions of how students should act while at the university, most of which are compared to their view of “the Western way.”
Although my academic classes are interesting, my favorite class that I am here taking is Sitar! I take lessons two times a week with a few of my friends in the CIEE program. I thought it might be similar to playing guitar, but so far it has been totally different. To make it even more interesting, our teacher speaks very little English, so we have to follow along by listening and watching him play. So far we have learned one melody and Happy Birthday, but soon we will start working on playing a piece for the Cultural Show at the end of the semester!